Important takeaways from Women Who Suffered Emotionally from Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of Their Experiences.
This new study by Priscilla K. Coleman, Ph.D., sheds light on the suffering women experience after an abortion. In this article, I hope to identify key insights from the full article, which can be found at http://www.jpands.org/vol22no4/coleman.pdf
Numerous factors affect a woman’s adjustment to life after an abortion. Priscilla K. Coleman, Ph.D., and three assistants published the results of a qualitative study they conducted in 2012-2013 with 987 participants. The study was designed to enhance understanding of the breadth and depth of individuals’ experiences. Respondents were asked to describe the most significant positive and negative aspects of their abortion histories in an anonymous online survey. The majority of the respondents had contacted a pregnancy center seeking post-abortion services. The primary means for recruitment of respondents came through Care Net directors from across the United States. The respondents ranged in age from 20 to over 60. Most were white, married, and well educated, with a wide range of income levels.
Less than one third identified any personal benefits from their abortions. Commonly voiced positives focused on spiritual growth, outreach to other women who were considering abortion or had already experienced one, and various forms of pro-life activism.
Much has been written about reproductive decision-making and the adjustment to the choice to abort. There have been conflicts over the methods used and the results pertaining to mental health issues. A number of risk factors related to abortion have been identified and are accepted in the academic community. They are routinely taught to abortion providers and also acknowledged by the American Psychological Association. Many professional studies focus on
Whether high risk or not, many women who have aborted report a mixture of positive and negative feelings about the experience. These feelings fluctuate over time. Other researchers agree that there is a need for far more than clinical trials and statistical analysis. Women themselves must be free to express the full range of feelings they have about their abortion(s).
So far, very few qualitative studies have been done with large numbers of subjects, and most have been limited in the range of the age of participants and the length of time since the abortion. There are numerous and complex factors that influence feelings about the experience, such as perceived coercion, ambivalence, pre-existing trauma, etc. Qualitative studies offer the opportunity to shed light on the interactions among these factors.
Coleman’s study used minimal prompting and offers a thematic analysis of responses from a large nationwide survey. It primarily examines open-ended responses to two questions asked of women who have sought post-abortion care.
The questions were:
• What are the most significant positives if any that have come from your decision to abort?
• What are the most significant negatives if any that have come from your decision to abort?
Hopefully, the study will add insight into the development of pre-and post-abortion counseling guidelines. The survey covered more than 400 quantitative and qualitative items and it took most people an hour to complete. Responses were coded and themes developed to coordinate the vast number of responses received.
The study shows that 13% of respondents had visited a mental health professional before the first pregnancy and abortion, compared to 67.5% who made such visits afterward. Another key finding was that only 6.6% used prescription drugs for psychological health before the abortion experience, compared with 51% afterward. This indicates that most of the respondents were psychologically healthy before their first abortion and that there was a significant increase in their use of mental health professionals and medications after their abortions.
The article then lists the themes identified from the analysis and gives an example to illustrate each one, directly quoting a participant’s description. The examples are very familiar ones to those who are involved in helping women recover from abortion and are echoed in numerous testimonies. Feelings of loss, reduced quality of life, living with regret, shame, guilt, depression, and anxiety were named repeatedly. Forty-nine respondents said they lacked the desire to keep on living at some point after the abortion. The majority described numerous negative outcomes, usually centered on the
Because the participants were self-selected and had contact with pregnancy centers, the results cannot be generalized to the entire population of post-abortive women. The participants sought help in faith-based, pro-life centers. The majority also sought other forms of professional help at some point.
Dr. Coleman is a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She writes and speaks frequently on the topic of abortion and has conducted other research studies.
The debate over the impact of abortion on mental health has been under discussion for many years. Dr. Julius Fogel, a psychiatrist
As a graduate student at the time, I was aware that the commonly held assumption was that women with mental health conditions would benefit from abortion when facing an unplanned pregnancy. Over the years,
This study provides some scientific support to the huge anecdotal evidence of the emotional suffering many suffer from abortion.
It stirs me to continue to advocate for making comprehensive and competent counseling the highest priority in our efforts to reach the hearts and minds of women considering abortion. We need to use all the appropriate means and methods at our disposal.